Prison is definitely not a fun place, and there is definitely the risk that you will be hurt by another prisoner. But would you ever expect to be abused by the warden and/or guards? Probably not, right? They’re there to quasi-protect you and to keep the peace, right? Well, on Rikers Island in New York, prisoners are being abused, some even to the point of death. From delays in getting much-needed medication to blatant abuse of mentally-ill prisoners, Rikers is rife with abuse.
You may or may not know this, but many prisoners suffer from mental illness such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These illness are usually easily controlled with medication and therapy. However, when you are born into poverty or do not have a job/insurance, it is damn near impossible to receive either of those things. This can in turn lead to homelessness and multiple occurrences of crime. Often when mentally ill people end up in prison, there is a delay, for no important reason, in getting the proper medication; if a mentally ill prisoner has trouble following directions from guards or does something improper, the guards will and have beat prisoners to the point of hospitalization and even death. There was even an incident where an inmate tried to hang himself, and instead of receiving immediate medical and psychological attention, the guards beat him to a pulp, and he suffered a perforated bowel and had to have emergency surgery (New York Times).
Rikers Island is the second-largest prison in the United States, and it sits on an island in the East River between Queens and the Bronx (think Alcatraz). According to Wikipedia, Rikers consists of ten jails, and holds local offenders (NYC area) who are awaiting trial and cannot afford, obtain, or were not given bail from a judge; those serving sentences of one year or less; and those temporarily placed at Rikers pending transfer to another city. The actual island was used as a military training ground during the Civil War. One regiment that trained there was commanded by John Lafayette Riker, who was related to the owners of the island. In May 1884 Governor Cleveland signed the bill authorizing the Commissioner of Charities and Corrections to purchase the island and use it for a work-house. In 1932 the city opened a jail for men on the island, and Rikers Island prison was born.
Even though abuse is common at Rikers, there are few whistle-blowers and the Department of Correction has been reluctant to acknowledge the problem and the fact that the guards are rarely punished. A recent report on Rikers by NYC’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene laid bare the culture of brutality, and makes crystal clear that Rikers inmates with mental illnesses absorb the brunt of the violence. In the report, 77% of seriously injured inmates had previously received a mental illness diagnosis.
So what causes all of this brutality? Part of it is that the guards are not trained sufficiently to deal with mentally ill inmates, and end up over-using force, even in minor provocations.
If you or a family member work in a prison, let me know what you think about this!
Love & Honor,